Meetings between women’s groups and the Scottish Government

In their manifesto from last May the SNP promised to consult with a wide range of groups, including women’s groups, to identify the best way to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). However, seven months after the Scottish Election, a Freedom of Information response showed that the Scottish Government had met with five government funded trans lobby groups, and no women’s groups at all. Following coverage in the Telegraph the Cabinet Secretary, Shona Robison, agreed to meet with women’s groups.

This blog pulls together the available information about those meetings.

LGB Alliance met with Ms Robison on 18 January 2022 highlighting concerns about dropping the minimum age to 16 when the number of LGB detransitioners is growing. “We were glad to hear that people will be able to change their mind and have their Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) revoked. Quite how this squares with the suggestion last year that a compulsory lifetime pledge will be a key safeguard to protect women from abuse of the Self-ID process we are unsure.”
Twitter thread about the meeting is here.

For Women Scotland also had a meeting on 18 January 2022 where Ms Robison was unable to answer the question that had stumped Shirley-Anne Somerville two years ago – why would anyone without gender dysphoria need to change their sex? Establishing the content of the (almost?) finalised Bill was difficult with Ms Robison only confirming it was based on self-ID towards the end of the meeting. The importance of single-sex spaces and the difficulties retaining them was discussed extensively with Ms Robison saying “Abusive and predatory men are abusive and predatory men. I don’t think they’ve ever felt the need to pretend to be anything else.” – a comment she was later quite rightly derided for when repeated in Parliament.
Follow-up letter to Ms Robison is here.

Fair Play For Women‘s meeting was on 19 January and focused on the cross-border implications of the undefined “ordinarily resident in Scotland” which will allow brief visitors from England and Wales to use the self-ID process to swap the sex on their birth certificate. Incredibly the rebuttal was that there is no evidence of people travelling to Ireland to get a GRC so it won’t happen in Scotland – which completely fails to understand that Irish GRCs are not recognised in the UK.
Twitter thread about the meeting is here, and a follow-up letter.

Sole Sisters/VoteWithOurFeet met with Ms Robison on 20 January and asked how the single-sex exceptions in the Equality Act could be upheld in practice if self-ID of sex is introduced. Any possible problems were denied and responsibility passed to individual service providers to try to implement policies.
An account of the meeting is here, as well as a follow-up letter.

MurrayBlackburnMackenzie met with government officials on 17 January and Ms Robison on 21 January and sent a follow-up letter. The Scottish Government accepts no responsibility for how reform might impact on the operation of single-sex spaces, delegating decisions to service providers reliant on forthcoming UKGov/EHRC guidance. No account was taken of the recent High Court decision that GRC holders have more rights than non-GRC holders to be held in a female prison and that this has a detrimental impact on women. Little consideration has been given to how removing the diagnosis for gender dysphoria will allow those currently ineligible to gain a GRC but not access to physical treatments on the NHS. No indication was given on how a false declaration could be evidenced.

Woman’s Place UK had a meeting on 24 January and stressed the lack of meaningful engagement with women’s concerns. The situation in Ireland was claimed as a good comparator by Ms Robison without any recognition of evidence to the contrary. No thought had been given to the potential impact on women’s ability to take sex discrimination cases. And this lack of consideration extends to the impact on the rest of the UK where it seems no discussion has been sought with the UK Government.
Twitter thread about the meeting is here, and a follow-up letter.

Women Speak Scotland were denied a meeting with Shona Robison and instead met with Peter Hope-Jones, the Head of the Gender Recognition Unit on 15 February, who they described as poorly-informed and unable to answer basic questions. He maintained there had been ample discussion, there was no conflict of rights and single-sex spaces had nothing to do with the proposed legislation.
Follow-up letter is here, from which it is worth highlighting the first question:

Our Question: It’s been reported in the press that the GRA Reform Bill will be introduced to Parliament on 24/02/22. Can you confirm that this is the intention?

You weren’t at liberty to answer this question. Nor could you confirm whether the Bill has been lodged with the Presiding Officer prior to its introduction within the next three weeks. While we appreciate that you could not answer the question, it did mean we were less than clear on the purpose of our meeting with you: if the Bill is still in development then the meeting was an opportunity for us to influence its drafting, but if it has already been lodged or will shortly be so, then it is less clear what the purpose is.

A Freedom of Information response confirms that the finalised Bill was lodged with the Presiding Officer on 02 February, almost two weeks before the meeting with WSS. That the Scottish Government would not answer a direct question on this and kept up the pretence of meaningful engagement with women beyond this date is nothing short of a disgrace.

Bayswater Support Group also met with the Gender Recognition Unit, most likely after the Bill had been lodged with Parliament, to discuss potential impacts to gender-distressed children. The government did not recognise a connection between the legal and medical process and had not considered lowering the age may compromise clinical goals for 16 and 17 year olds, undermining therapy and parental responsibilities.
Twitter thread about the meeting is here.

Women’s Declaration International had a very late meeting with the GRU on 25 February, focusing on the Government’s commitments under international law, particularly relating to CEDAW. No answers were forthcoming about the impact of data compromise on working towards eliminating violence against women, nor how a commitment to breaking down gender (sex role stereotypes) can be met whilst embedding the undefined “living in an acquired gender”.
Follow-up letter is here.

All of these meetings have been short, hastily arranged, and held only days before (and in some cases after) the Bill was lodged with Parliament. The SNP commitment to draft the Bill after working with women’s groups has not been honoured. It is clear there was never any opportunity to influence or have any input into the formation of the legislation.

The Government has had two years since the end of the second consultation to consider the issues raised but still has no answers to fundamental criticisms. It holds onto the idea that reform is just an administrative change for a small group of people without recognising that removing the eligibility criteria opens up the process to 100% of the population. It insists GRC holders do not gain additional rights to access single-sex provision while ignoring case law that says otherwise (and then does an about turn by arguing GRC holders should be counted as women in court). It says service providers must wait for EHRC guidance while it simultaneously ignores EHRC advice on the proposed reform. Evidence of problems in other countries is denied, no thought appears to have been given to border issues, and contrary information is given on whether detransitioners will be able to revoke a GRC. It is also, quite frankly, wilfully ignorant of the harms that will be bestowed on young people.

The fourth Gunning principle states that the fruits of consultation must be conscientiously considered. Unusually, the Government did not publish a report in response to the analysis of the second consultation and has therefore never publicly demonstrated that it has considered any of the issues raised. It still cannot provide answers and has steadfastly refused to take concerns into account or change its initial decision in any way – as shown by the Bill that was introduced to Parliament on 02 March which is largely identical to the draft from four years ago.

The one change in the Bill is the addition of the Registrar General’s duty to report on the number of GRCs issued per annum. As Shona Robison explained to Parliament this was done in response to listening to concerns from women’s groups about monitoring the impact of the legislation. Yet absolutely no-one asked for this, a surely mundane admin task that could be taken as given. When we talked about how the impact of the legislation could be monitored we referred to the impact on accurate data collection and crime records when men are recorded as female, and how can we know how many women self-exclude from services. Shockingly, not only did the Government not listen to a word we said but it misrepresented our views. If it thinks this constitutes “proof” of having taken on board women’s concerns then they are very much mistaken.